See the awe-inspiring natural wonders and incredible landmarks Vietnam is famous for, with a special focus on the north. After arriving in Hanoi, you'll travel to the highlands for mountain hikes and riverboat excursions. Then, enjoy some fun road trips on your way south down to the coast, where you'll finish the adventure in style with a cruise along the jade waters of the legendary Ha Long Bay.


  • Go on mountain hikes and visit ethnic villages
  • Take boat rides on highland lakes and rivers
  • Embark on an overnight cruise on Ha Long Bay

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi, Transfer to Ha Giang Ha Giang
Day 2 Transfer to Dong Van via Yen Minh Pass Dong Van
Day 3 Dong Van Sightseeing, Transfer to Meo Vac Meo Vac
Day 4 Tour Meo Vac, Transfer to Ba Be Ba Be
Day 5 Boating & Hiking in Ba Be Ba Be
Day 6 Transfer to Cao Bang Cao Bang
Day 7 Visit Ban Gioc Waterfall, Transfer to Lang Son Lang Son Province
Day 8 Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Overnight Cruise Ha Long Bay
Day 9 Morning Cruise, Transfer to Hanoi, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi, Transfer to Ha Giang

The terraced rice fields of Ha Giang
Welcome to Vietnam! This country is ancient in every sense of the word, as its first inhabitants arrived some 20,000 years ago. Needless to say, there's rich history and culture here on top of the country's boundless natural beauty. You'll experience both the beauty and the culture practically from the moment you arrive at the airport in Vietnam's capital Hanoi
A private car will meet you upon arrival and transfer you north out of the city to Ha Giang. This city is located in a stunning mountainous region of northeast Vietnam and sits on the banks of the Lo River. The drive does take six hours, but throughout you'll pass breathtaking highland landscapes, traditional ethnic villages, bustling markets, verdant farmland, and plenty of terraced rice fields. This particular region of Vietnam is populated mostly by ethnic tribespeople, mainly the Tay, Red Dzao, Dzao Ao Dai, La Chi, and Co Lao groups. During the drive, you'll also stop for lunch.
When you arrive in Ha Giang, you'll check in to your guesthouse and will have the rest of the day free. If there's time, visit the local markets and browse the crafts stalls before returning to the guesthouse for dinner. 

Day 2: Transfer to Dong Van via Yen Minh Pass

A winding route through Yen Minh Pass
Wake up early and hop back in the car for a scenic full-day driving tour from Ha Giang to the town of Dong Van, located at the northernmost point of Vietnam at the border with China. The stunning route will take you 90 miles (145 km) through the Dong Van Karst Plateau. This region is so full of natural beauty and culture that it has been designated a UNESCO Global Geopark (the first of only three in Vietnam). 
You'll see this beauty and culture firsthand on a couple of stops at scenic viewpoints and villages in the region. The first is at Quan Ba Heaven Gate. Here, you'll hike to the top of Co Tien Mountain for marvelous panoramic views of the Quan Ba Valley. Following this, you'll visit the Red Dzao village of Nam Dam and the Hmong village of Lung Tam. Here you'll tour a textile workshop, meet locals, and witness the traditional rural way of life they've maintained for hundreds of years.

Then take a scenic drive over the Yen Minh Pass, a twisty road that runs 25 miles (40 km) through towering mountains. Stop for lunch in the ancient village of Pho Bang, then visit the town of Lung Cam. Here you'll witness a music and dance performance by the Hmong residents accompanied by the khen (a traditional reed instrument). Afterward, visit a unique century-old mansion and national relic once home to the Vuong royal family, who at one time ruled a vast area of this border region. From here, continue to your hotel in Dong Van and spend the rest of the day relaxing.
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Day 3: Dong Van Sightseeing, Transfer to Meo Vac

Ride along steep mountain roads toward the Meo Vac district
After breakfast, spend the morning exploring Dong Van. This northern border town is set in an attractive valley populated mainly by the Tay ethnic group. The markets, shops, and homes here reflect this rich ethnic culture, and along with your guide, you'll get to chat with a few locals in town. You'll even take a walk to the surrounding rice paddies to meet locals working the fields. 

Then get in the car for the one-hour ride south into the adjacent Meo Vac district. Enjoy the drive over the Ma Pi Leng Pass, where a spectacular view unfolds along winding roads carved into the mountains at nearly 6,562 feet (2,000 m). Continue down into the scenic Meo Vac Valley and the town of the same name, where your hotel awaits.

Day 4: Tour Meo Vac, Transfer to Ba Be

Travel From Meo Vac To Ba Be With Sightseeing
Mist over the waters of Ba Be National Park
In the morning, head out from your hotel for a walk around town. First, visit the hundred-year-old Meo Vac Sunday market. This is a hub for the mountainous ethnic minorities in the Ha Giang region and a great place to meet locals and experience the tribal culture. If the market is closed, you can opt for a short walk to a nearby village to spend time with locals.
Then, leave Meo Vac on a scenic drive downhill drive to Bac Can Province and the largest natural lake in Vietnam. Located in the heart of Ba Be National Park this area has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After a brief stop here, you'll continue on the road snaking through the mountains to the Tay village of Bo Lu. Here, you'll visit a friendly Tay family in their traditional stilt house, and your guide will handle translating duties. Later in the afternoon, you'll arrive at a homestay at Coc Toc village, where you'll overnight. Dinner will be served at the homestay.

Day 5: Boating & Hiking in Ba Be

Boating And Trekking in Ba Be
Take a boat ride through Ba Be's three bays
After breakfast at your homestay, hop on a boat for a full-day tour along the bodies of water here. Ba Be literally translates to "three bays," a name that derives from the three interconnected lakes in the park. The boat will take you across all three to the Nang River, where you'll cruise up to Dong Puong, a 984-foot (300 m) tunnel carved by the river through a limestone mountain.
The boat will then proceed downriver to the rustic village of Hua Tang, where you'll enjoy lunch in a local house on the water. Afterward, take a short walk through the jungle to the scenic Thac Dau Dang Waterfalls, a series of spectacular cascades between sheer rock walls. Return by boat to your homestay and enjoy a rest before dinner.

Day 6: Transfer to Cao Bang

Travel From Ba Be To Cao Bang With Sightseeing
Get off the beaten track on today's journey to Cao Bang
In the morning, leave Ba Be on a scenic full-day road trip to Cao Bang, a city on the Bang Giang River. The route heads south by a river that snakes alongside mountains throughout northern Vietnam. This area is rarely visited by tourists, so it's about as "off the beaten track" as you're likely to find in this country.
On the way to Cao Bang, you'll visit some ethnic minority communities and meet with locals. There will also be a stop for lunch en route, as well as plenty of photo opportunities. Later in the afternoon you'll arrive in Cao Bang and check in to your hotel. You'll then have the remainder of the day free.

Day 7: Visit Ban Gioc Waterfall, Transfer to Lang Son

Take a day trip to Ban Gioc, one of the largest waterfall systems in the world 
Today you'll leave Cao Bang on a day trip to visit Ban Gioc Waterfall. To arrive there, you'll travel over the scenic Ma Phuc Pass to the border with China. Here, two different falls converge to form Ban Gioc, one of the largest and most beautiful waterfall systems in the world. After admiring the falls, your guide will lead you on a short hike to the famous Nguom Ngao Grotto, a network of giant river caverns you can explore. Afterward, continue driving south to Lang Son, the capital city of the province of the same name. Here you'll check in to your hotel.

Day 8: Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Overnight Cruise

Karst islands rising out of Ha Long Bay
Enjoy breakfast at the hotel, then meet your driver for the three-hour ride south to the marina at Ha Long Bay. Located on the Gulf of Tonkin, over 1,000 karst islets rise above jade waters and resemble the spine of some mythological creature ("ha long" actually translates to "descending dragon"). The unique beauty of this region is unlike anywhere else and thus has been bestowed with UNESCO World Heritage status.

Upon arrival at the marina, you'll board a multi-level cruise ship for an overnight tour. After settling into your cabin, head up to the deck, where a delicious lunch awaits. Then you can spend hours relaxing on the sun deck as the ship sails across glassy emerald waters to the most secluded corners of the bay. Later that afternoon, you'll stop at a secret cove for a swim and a kayak trip to explore hidden beaches and grottoes. Return to the boat for dinner, then spend the rest of the evening relaxing, or head out on a small boat for a bit of night fishing with the locals.

Day 9: Morning Cruise, Transfer to Hanoi, Depart

Don't miss witnessing the sunrise over Ha Long Bay
Rise early for a sunrise breakfast on the deck of the ship. Spend the rest of the morning enjoying the scenery as the boat cruises back toward the marina. After an early lunch, you'll disembark the ship and hop in a vehicle for the 3.5-hour ride back to Hanoi. Here you'll transfer to the airport and catch your flight home. Safe travels!

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Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Vietnam? Check out these other Vietnam itineraries, explore more ways to spend nine days in Vietnam, or discover the best time to visit Vietnam.
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Map of Northern Vietnam Adventure - 9 Days
Map of Northern Vietnam Adventure - 9 Days
Written by Hien Do, updated Mar 6, 2023